Alien worlds How insects conquered the Earth, and why their fate will determine our future

Steve Nicholls

Book - 2023

"Life on Earth depends on the busy activities of insects, but global populations of these teeming creatures are currently under threat, with grave consequences for us all. Alien Worlds presents insects and other arthropods as you have never seen them before, explaining how they conquered the planet and why there are so many of them, and shedding light on the evolutionary marvels that enabled them to thrive. Blending glorious imagery with entertaining and informative science writing, this book takes you inside the hidden realm of insects and reveals why their fate carries profound implications for our own."--Dust jacket flap.

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Princeton : Princeton University Press 2023
Main Author
Steve Nicholls (author)
Item Description
First published in the UK in 2023 by Head of Zeus, part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London.
Physical Description
xi, 484 pages : color photographs, illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 473-474) and index.
  • Teeming hordes
  • Origins
  • Hexapods
  • First in flight
  • Wings over the world
  • Flower power
  • The mating game
  • The next generation
  • Living together
  • For queen and colony
  • Superorganism.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

"We live in a world dominated by insects," according to this stunning survey. Nicholls (Flowers of the Field), a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, explains that insects evolved from ancient marine arthropods (segmented invertebrates) that crawled onto land more than 400 million years ago. Soon after, some grew wings that gave them an edge against predators and helped them rapidly spread throughout the globe. Digging into the adaptations of insects mundane and exotic, Nicholls explains that the American cockroach has sense organs able to "detect the slightest air movement" and that glacier stoneflies produce "their own brand of antifreeze to survive" on the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. He delves into the surprisingly complex social worlds of aphids, ants, bees, and grasshoppers, observing that Chromacris psittacus grasshoppers coordinate their feeding frenzies to maximize how much of a given leaf they can ingest before the poisonous plants they prey on deploy chemical defenses. Surprises abound, and gorgeous color photos provide intimate views of the species discussed. The result is an eye-popping tour of the weird and wild world of bugs. Photos. (Aug.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A sharp, pertinent exploration of the bugs that rule the Earth. There are 150 million insects, or 300 pounds, for every human being. By numbers of species--around 1 million "so far described" and "perhaps another 5 million out there"--they are the most successful animals ever. One of every 4 animals on Earth is a beetle. Nicholls, an award-winning documentary producer, entomologist, and author of Flowers of the Field and Paradise Found, explains that all insects have three distinct body sections: head (eyes, mouthparts, and antennae), thorax (the engine room with muscles to power the legs and wings) and abdomen (with all other organs essential for life, including digestion and the reproductive system). Attached to the thorax are three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings, although both may be reduced in some species. Birds and mammals converted their front legs to wings, but insects evolved theirs from scratch--another conundrum biologists continue to puzzle over. Nicholls joins other writers on unpopular creatures (bugs, germs, rodents) by emphasizing how useful they are. Insects pollinate crops, delight our senses with beauty and lights, eat damaging pests--often via grisly, inside-out parasitism--and serve as nutritious food. "Insects are by far the most ecologically sound way of producing animal protein," writes the author. In short, we couldn't live without them. Nicholls also pays attention to their diminishing numbers. The massive deployment of insecticides and monoculture farms are eliminating insects no less than mammals and birds. In parts of the world, farmers hand-pollinate crops, "an unbelievably tedious and time-consuming process." Bees are still on the job in the U.S., but their numbers are also decreasing. Among countless other interesting facts, readers will soak up vivid details of carnivorous plants and learn about insects' ability to jump great distances or walk on water. They will also enjoy the generous selection of beautiful, occasionally gruesome photographs spread throughout the text. Exemplary popular science. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.